Monday, February 22, 2010

Quantum Theory: "A Strange Footprint on the Shores of the Unknown"

"A Strange Footprint on the Shores of the Unknown"
by TekGnostics

"One day in 1909, Dr. Sigmund Freud and Dr. Carl Jung were arguing about extrasensory perception. Freud - I imagine him with the inevitable cigar clenched between his teeth, was insisting that all that stuff was nonsense, and Jung was arguing that there was something in it, really, although he didn't know what. As the argument heated up and the emotional energy began to crackle, there suddenly came an explosive bang from Freud's bookcase. "There," said Jung, "that is an example of a so-called catalytic phenomenon." "Oh, come!" Freud exclaimed. "That is sheer bosh!"

"It is not," Jung replied firmly, feeling possessed by an intuitive conviction he could not understand. "You are mistaken, Herr Professor. And to prove my point, I now predict that in a moment there will be another bud report!" No sooner had Jung spoken, than the same detonation went off again in the bookcase. Freud looked so aghast that Jung, who was a bit unsettled himself, dropped the subject at once. In his autobiography, Jung says he and Freud never discussed the incident again.

What are we to make of such a yarn? The skeptic will label it "mere coincidence", or, even more strongly, "sheer coincidence", and forget about it. This does not really satisfy anybody but the skeptic himself, and leaves most of us thinking of Ring Lardner's immortal line: "Shut up," he explained.

Parapsychologists will offer two alternative pseudo-explanations. Some of them will say that the bangs might have been caused by something as banal as seismic tremors in the earth or traffic in the street, and the paranormal aspect of the incident was just that Jung suddenly exhibited precognition, the ability to see ahead in time. Other parapsychologists will suggest instead that what happened was psycho-kinesis (PK), what laymen call "mind over matter." According to this theory, Jung's unconscious somehow made the second explosion happen. Those who believe in this explanation say it also accounts for poltergeists (a German word for "noisy ghosts"), who allegedly afflict some houses with crashes and bangs for months on end, and even make the furniture fly. The noisy ghost, they say, is emotional-psychic energy accidentally unleashed by one of the people living in the house. The trouble with these explanations is that, like coincidence, they are only words. The term precognition does not tell us what any scientist would want to know, which is how Jung saw ahead in time. And the word psychokinesis does not tell us how Jung's mind caused the second boom.

But there is an explanation for it, and for all the other paranormal events you've read about: the spoon bending, the out-of-body experiences, the faith healers, even the eyes of Laura Mars. And the explanation lies in physics. "I am inclined to believe in telepathy," Albert Einstein once said, "but I suspect it has more to do with physics than with psychology." When Einstein said this back in the Twenties, nobody in either physics or psychology understood what he was suggesting. Today, new breakthroughs in a far-out branch of physics called Quantum Theory indicate that Einstein was, as usual, fifty years ahead of his contemporaries. These new discoveries seem to offer a single scientific explanation for all the weird events that parapsychologists have classified under such conflicting labels as ESP, direct-brain perception, clairvoyance, distant viewing, psychokinesis, out-of-body experience, and cosmic consciousness (Illumination).

What some physicists are suggesting is that all such mystical brain functions are aspects of one phenomenon: a subatomic but universal intelligence system that receives, integrates, and transmits information at a level much deeper than the sensory appearances of what we call space, time, and separateness. And this intelligence system, although outside spacetime as we know it, manifests itself within space and time as electrons, atoms, molecules, cells, complicated critters like you and me, planets, stars, and whole galaxies.

So, what is quantum mechanics? A quantum is a unit of action, just as a foot is a unit of length or a gram is a unit of weight. Quantum physics first appeared as a theory in the 1890s, when Philipp Lenard observed that light travels in distinctly timed, choppy units like the beats of a drum, not in smooth, continuous waves like the singing of a violin. These distinct units are called quanta; the single unit is a quantum; and quantum theory is the body of experiment and mathematics dealing with such discontinuous actions. Furthermore, it is now known that all subatomic events occur in this quantum, or jumpy manner - a miniature psychedelic light show.

If the world of large things seen by our senses is like a straight line ( _____ ), the quantum world is like a dotted line (-------- ). Or, to employ three artistic analogies, a painter would describe the quantum world as collage, not portrait. A musician would call it staccato, not legato. A filmmaker would say it was montage, not linear narrative.

No cause-and-effect relationship has yet been found between one quantum action and the next. Most physicists are convinced that there is no cause and effect on that level. It is as if Law and Order function only above the atomic level; inside the atom, die surrealists, crapshooters, and anarchists have taken over the shop.

To the ordinary citizen, everything in modern physics is as queer as a three-legged duck anyway, and this lack of causality in the quantum wonderland is no stranger than anything else physicists tell us. To the physicists themselves, quantum mechanics has done to traditional science what Sitting Bull did to George Armstrong Custer. One of the greatest quantum physicists, Nobel Laureate Erwin Schrodinger, was so distressed by his own equations that he denounced "this damned quantum jumping" (verdammte Quantumspringerei) in a letter to Einstein. Science, you see, is supposed to be able to yield accurate predictions, based on the iron law of cause and effect; and the breakdown of causality within the atom makes it look as if science itself may be an arbitrary human attempt to impose order on a disorderly or chaotic universe.

Rising from the wreckage of causality, three lines of thought have attempted to make sense of the seemingly senseless facts. These are known as the Copenhagen interpretation, the multiple-universe model, and the hidden-variable theory.

The Copenhagen Interpretation was devised in the Twenties by Nobel Laureate Niels Bohr and named after his hometown, where he lived in the middle of the Carls-berg brewery, in a house given him by the crown. (Yes, Virginia, the commercials are true: Carlsberg really is the official brewer for the King of Denmark.) The breakdown of causality in quantum mechanics is expressed mathematically in the concept of "the collapse of the state vector." You don't need to know what diat means technically: roughly, a vector is a mathematical expression telling you the direction and magnitude of a force. It is enough to know that in ordinary (large-scale) mechanics, the vector tells you what will happen next, and in quantum mechanics, the state vector only tells you what might happen next. There is thus a great gaping hole between what science should be able to predict and what quantum theory does allow us to predict, and it is a hole big enough to fly a 747 through.

Bohr filled in the hole by saying the collapse of the state vector exists only in our minds. No, that is not a misprint, and, no, I am not oversimplifying. Another physicist, Bryce DeWitt, tells us bluntly, "The Copenhagen view promotes the impression that the collapse of the state vector and even the state vector (itself) are all in the mind." To the ordinary person who doesn't know the state vector from Finnegan's feet, this may not sound too alarming, but to traditional physicists, Bohr sounds like a man saying the brick wall you banged your head on is only in your mind.

Bohr was not a solipsist; he didn't claim the state vector was only in his mind. But his theory does seem, at least to his critics, to imply a kind of group solipsism, a notion that the universe known to science is not a model of the real universe but something once removed from that: a reflection of how the human mind goes about building models of the real universe. As Sir Arthur Eddington, an astronomer much influenced by Bohr, states this position: "We have found a strange footprint on the shores of the unknown. We have devised profound and elaborate theories, one after another, to account for its origin. At last, we have succeeded in reconstructing the creature that made the footprint. And lo! It is our own."

The Multiple-Universe Model has its roots in science fiction, and some physicists think it should have been left there. It is, however, a logical and consistent alternative explanation of what the hell collapses that unpredictable state vector. Briefly: everything that can happen to it, does happen to it.

This is also known as the Everett-Wheeler-Graham model, having been devised by three Princeton University physicists, Hugh Everett, John Archibald Wheeler, and Neil Graham. I don't know what they were smoking at the time, but this view holds, in effect, that if you toss a coin, it lands both heads and tails—in different universes. The state vector collapses every which way, as the actual quantum equations imply. We see only one result, because we are in only one universe; but in the universe next door, another you and another I will see a different result. And there are an incredible number of such possible (and by this fundamentalist reading of quantum math, real) alternative universes.

As Bryce DeWitt has written in Physics Today: "I still recall vividly the shock I experienced on first encountering this multi-world concept... The idea of 10¹ºº+ slightly imperfect copies of oneself constantly splitting into further copies... is not easy to reconcile with common sense." Indeed it is not, but DeWitt and others have accepted it as the least absurd way out of the quantum uncertainty problem.

If you can deal with the idea that in the universe next door, Hitler is remembered as a popular artist who never went into politics, and in the next universe over, John F. Kennedy decided not to go to Dallas on November 22,1963, and lived to a ripe old age; and in another universe, you don't exist because your parents never met ”you can take the multi-world path out of quantum anarchy. Otherwise, it is back to Copenhagen, where the universe we know is inside our heads, or onward to the hidden variable, where space and time do not really exist.

The Hidden-Variable Theory was started by Albert Einstein, even though he never explicitly used the term "hidden variable." Nevertheless, Einstein was always annoyed by quantum uncertainty, and attacked quantum mechanics from every angle possible, summing up his view in the famous dictum: "God does not play dice with the universe." In 1952, Dr. David Bohm, then considered the most brilliant pupil of J. Robert Oppenheimer, showed explicitly that Einstein's criticisms of quantum theory were valid only if there were a subquantum level: a world below the quantum world. Bohm also showed that this subquantum world could be the hidden variable that collapses the otherwise anarchistic state vector, but only if the supposed variable functioned "nonlocally." This means, in effect, only if space and time do not exist as we think they do.

The trouble with the Copenhagen solution is that, however much Niels Bohr and his defenders may deny it, this path ultimately leads to the conclusion that everything we think we know is only a construct of our brains. Physics then becomes a branch of psychology; it tells us not what the universe does, but what our brains do in organizing their impressions into ideas. The trouble with the multiple-universe model is that, however elegantly it may fit the quantum equation for the state vector, most of us simply can't believe in skillions and skillions of universes - each as vast in space and time as the one we think we're in - where everything that can happen really does happen. And the trouble with the hidden-variable theory has always been that nobody dared claim they had found any subquantum world, beyond space and time, in which the hidden variables could function. Until recently…"
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